Give Back Yoga: Bringing the practice to those in need

With the goal of bringing the therapeutic benefits of yoga to people with limited access to this practice, Beryl Bender Birch and Rob Schware founded The Give Back Yoga Foundation in 2007.

“We help yoga teachers, health workers, and charitable organizations offer yoga to those in need — including veterans, prisoners, and individuals facing mental and physical illness,” explains Beryl. “We also work with community partners to increase access to yoga for populations that face systemic bias and prejudice.”

Their strategy is to support a broad spectrum of the yoga service movement; from teachers leading classes in their local communities, to seedling yoga service projects, to established programs and organizations.

The organization’s strategy focuses on three core areas:

  • Start-up Supplies: We provide mats to yoga teachers who wish to lead service projects in their local communities.
  • Small grants: These are for teachers and organizations to kickstart their service projects.
  • Fiscal sponsorship: To help new yoga service organizations get started.

History in the Making

The beginning: As part of Beryl’s teacher training at The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute, students were asked to complete a give back project — including writing, implementing, and reporting on a yoga service project. At the time, Rob was looking for a way to give back after his career with the World. Bank. He envisioned a project to help yoga teachers service vulnerable communities. Beryl suggested they turn his plan into a nonprofit and together they established The Give Back Yoga Foundation.

2011: The Prison Yoga Project, founded by James Fox, was a small but growing program at San Quentin. With Rob and Beryl, James published a book about yoga for prisoners, and as of today that program has distributed more than 30,000 to incarcerated men and women, free of charge, and trained thousands of prisoners.

2013: Give Back Yoga sponsored a program by Chelsea Roff, the founder of Eat Breathe Thrive. She launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50K and 44 days into the 50-day fundraiser had raised $19K. “Chelsea knew it was time to do something dramatic, so she climbed onto her roof, laid down on her yoga mat, and vowed to remain there until the rest of the funds were raised,” Rob shares. “For five days, she held a widely-publicized yoga strike until the campaign reached its goal.”

2014-2017: Give Back Yoga has sponsored many other Legacy Programs, including:

  • Mindful Yoga Therapy: Founded by Suzanne Manafort, the organization brings yoga to veterans and people affected by trauma
  • Yoga of 12-Step Recovery: Founded by Nikki Myers, this program supports recovery and prevents relapse
  • yoga4cancer: Founded by Tari Prinster, her group integrates yoga into cancer treatment plans and assists with managing the side effects of treatment.

Today: To date, Give Back Yoga has trained more than 10,000 yoga teachers and healthcare workers, provided resources in 46 states and 19 countries, distributed 20,000 mats around the world, and awarded more than $400,000 in grants.

Click here to learn more about Give Back Yoga!